Initial redevelopment of the Union Pier downtown will focus on a modern cruise terminal and improved waterfront access, according to port and city officials at a kickoff event Thursday.

“This project has the potential to provide a world-class cruise terminal that conforms to current security requirements, while also enhancing this area of the downtown Charleston waterfront for Charleston residents and our visitors,” says Jim Newsome, the State Ports Authority’s president and CEO.

Phase one of the project area includes eight acres of waterfront from the city park up to the large sheds and warehouses that front East Bay Street. The rest of the pier property is expected to be redeveloped as terminal traffic is relocated over several years.

A 1996 Union Pier plan, though obviously in a different economic climate, included an ambitious redevelopment that would have returned water access directly in front of the Custom House.
Once waterfront marsh, the area is currently filled in for daily parking lots. The 1996 plan envisioned dredging that area and returning access for tourist boat traffic and permanent tall-ship attractions.

Yvonne Fortenberry, the city’s director of design, development, and preservation, says she expects a proposal that “fine-tunes” the previous plan with a little more focus on the cruise terminal. Any plans will require approval from the City Council due to zoning and traffic factors.

But Newsome tells the City Paper that the new redevelopment effort will not focus on previous plans. Since it’s so early in the planning process, Newsome doesn’t have cost estimates for the project or any details about the public or private partners that would be recruited to pitch in.

The four-month-long planning process will include public input opportunities including forums and the project website,